A life changing experience on the streets of Kampala ...

First published 25th September 2008

Will Churchill talks to Chris Dobson

Will is just starting a gap year before going on to university. During the year he hopes to volunteer abroad somewhere. He lives at home in Bradley Stoke. In the summer of 2007 Will's life was changed by a trip organised by Holy Trinity, Bradley Stoke to visit the Tiger's Youth Club in Kampala, Uganda. An orgnisation that gives children living on the streets shelter and hope for the future.

Chris: How did you get involved in the Tiger project?

Will: I was a member of the football club at Bradley Stoke Church and joined a smaller group called Extra-time where we had a chance to spend more time together and discuss life. When Paul Peterson wanted to lead a group of people out to Uganda the church members decided to invite some young people to go with them. So they took the idea to Xtra-time and four of us decided to go making 11 in all. It was a once in a life time opportunity. I didn't really know what to expect, but I knew I didn't want to miss out.

C: So was it easy to raise the money for the trip?

W: We were planning for it for over a year and did all kinds of things. Three of our fundraising ideas were really effective - or not. Bag packing in ASDA generated loads of money and interest, and we did a fantastic auction with the help of local businesses. Our worst idea was the car wash that completely failed to clean any cars!When we got back we hosted an African dinner with Matoke (steamed green bananas) and Beans and a presentation to say thank you to everyone who had supported us.

C: When the trip finally arrived was it a bit of an anti-climax?

W: Even when we got on the plane it still felt a bit like a dream, but the moment we stepped off the plane after our eight and a half hour flight it really hit me that I was somewhere completely different from home. Travelling from the airport we went over dirt roads with large potholes. All around us were people walking with crates on their bikes, or food on their heads while by the side of the road women sold vegetables in neat piles.

C: Did you have much time to acclimatise?

W: No, on our very first morning we were taken straight to the Tiger Club which is based in one of the worst slum areas in Kampala. It was a huge culture shock, with its open sewers and rubbish pits. Most shocking was all the young children scavenging through the rubbish for scrap metal to sell to buy food. A whole day's searching might raise enough for a boy to buy a bit of sugar cane and a bag of drinking water - or a few hours in a private video room where they could sleep. The streets are so dangerous at night that they have to stay awake all the time, so the only places they can sleep safely are in the video rooms. So mostly they have a choice, either to eat, or to sleep.

C: So how did that make you feel?

W: It's wrong! At first we were in denial, thinking, how can this be happening?' The injustice of it really gets to you and the powerlessness because there was nothing we could do other than be there. Faced with such absolute poverty I found myself asking, How did these people get to such a low state?'

C: What did you do while you were at the Tiger Club?

W: For the first week we were based at the Clubhouse, where boys can come for recreation, food and help. Four of us spent each morning helping to run the daily football club. I also helped teaching some of the staff how to use computers more effectively.

C: ... and what about the second week?

W: We went to Tudabujja', the Tiger Club's Halfway House, where children who have shown a real desire to leave the streets are encouraged to move. There they learn social skills, personal hygiene, washing up ... all the things children normally learn from their parents. There is also the chance to learn some basic agriculture so that they can grow food and earn money later on in life. We ran a holiday club while we were there, with sports, arts and crafts. The bracelet I'm wearing was made for me by, Ivan, one of the boys at the club. Paul ran some bible study classes, while we did plays and led discussions.

C: Tell me about the name, Tudabujja.'

W: The name was chosen by the kids themselves, it's a Luganda word that means, We are being made new!'

C: Were there any children who made a special impression on you personally?

W: We all fell in love with Lopez a six year old boy with attitude. All the others wanted to be farmers or teachers when they grew up, but he knew he wanted to be president! One of the highlights was seeing the boys receiving new football shirts. They each only had the shirt they stood up in, and to see their faces as they received a brand new football shirt each was amazing.

C: Did it make you think about how God fits into the picture?

W: I guess I went out to Uganda with lots of questions, and I still have lots of them, but meeting a woman in the slums, sitting outside her shelter which was made from 2 bits of corrugated iron propped against each other and listening to her story was really challenging. Despite having nothing, and not knowing how she was going to feed her children, she was full of faith in God, and had the strength to cope with her situation. I was also impressed by the Ugandan congregation that was planning to send missionaries to Europe to remind us of what we have lost spiritually.

C: Did it change your life?

W: I didn't want it to change my life forever' for two weeks. But of course after two weeks at home I settled back into the normal routines. But deep down I have been left with an awareness that faced with such injustice you cannot just do nothing. So I am trying to play my part in raising the profile of the boys' needs at the Tiger Club. After a year, though, I realise that my life has changed forever, before I went I assumed that I would follow the route of school, university, college, good job, but now money is less important to me than making a difference in people's lives and to the community I live in.

C: So what next?

W: I've got some retakes to do, and then I plan to make the most of my gap year by volunteering overseas again.

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